Controversial water contract passed by council

After debate, the city council on Thursday voted 10-3 to pass a controversial $12 million contract.

The no-bid Water Services Department contract goes to West Monroe Partners, headquartered in Chicago.

Councilman John Sharp fought against the contract again Thursday, arguing that the work was not unique and so should be put out to bid.

“This sets a terrible precedent,” he said.

The two-year contract is for work intended to greatly improve the water department’s often criticized customer service.

The department previously hired the Chicago firm to assess the problems and believed its wide range of skills made it the best company to fix them.

City Manager Troy Schulte signed off on that.

Mayor Sly James told Sharp, “They’ve (West Monroe) been under the hood of that car for six or seven months.”

Now Sharp is trying to push them aside and bring in another mechanic, James said. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Sharp said that the company will involve a minority-owned firm in only 10 percent of the work, less than the city goal of 13 percent.

Councilman Jermaine Reed noted that and said, “They’re not the only ones that can actually do this (work).”

Councilman Russ Johnson said the minority and women-owned business percentages “are goals, they are not quotas.”

To treat them as quotas puts them in danger of being overturned by the courts, he said.

Councilwoman Cindy Circo noted that the company more than met the goal of 8 percent of the work for a woman-owned business.

James told Sharp he does not believe that approving the contract will lead to a rash of other no-bid contracts, that they seldom happen.

Sharp said, “We don’t do this very often and that’s part of the reason for my comments today – to make sure we don’t do this very often.”

The contract passed with Sharp, Reed and Councilwoman Melba Curls voting against it.

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